9 April 2006
My wife and I attended the World Premiere of the History Channel‘s Antietam last night at the Park Visitor Center. If you get the History Channel, you do want to see this show when it is broadcast this evening at 9/8c. It is very nicely done.
The premiere, a day in advance of the broadcast, was sponsored by the H-WCC&VB and the WMIA – the Antietam Partner folks. Thanks very much to Kurt Redenbo of the WMIA for the invitation. I can’t think of a better place to have seen the film than at the battlefield, with about 60 other guests.
The film was introduced by brief remarks from historical consultant and talking head Dennis Frye (Harpers Ferry NHP) and director Michael Epstein. Mr Epstein came across very well, and was careful to credit his whole team for the film. He was presented with congratulations and lauditory certificates from Governor Ehrlich and the State Film Board by the Visitor Bureau chief Tom Riford [group picture]. After the lovefest, the film was screened.
First and foremost, the photographic effects are stunning. All of the battle sequences were shot with still cameras and made to look like glass-plate collodion photographs of Alexander Gardner – motion being created by “flipping” from still to still. Moving in and out of period photographs, Epstein has also simulated the popular 19th century stereographic effect. Early 3-D. These techniques are extremely effective in keeping us in the period. They are the claim to fame of this film. I’d have been happy to sit thorough an hour of two of them alone.
The usual documentary talking heads, however, provide the sound bites the TV audience will need to tie the story together. These were Frye, historians James Robertson (Va Tech), Gary Gallagher (UVa), Thavolia Glymph (Duke), David Blight (Yale), and Allen Guelzo (Gettysburg College), along with novelist Richard Croker. I heard somewhere that they competed during production for the pithiest phrases, bidding for more airtime. May not be true, but it sounded like it on a few occasions.
The story, necessarily brief to fit the TV time slot, breaks no ground historically. An overview for the newcomer, it ignores significant details of the campaign. Mr Epstein answered a question about this – specific to a Gary Gallagher statement that McClellan just sat, waiting, on September 15th and 16th, skipping past the preceding action on South Mountain – by explaining his time and technical limits, and that he made decisions about what to include based on the fundamantal point he wanted to make: that the Emancipation Proclamation and what it meant to American History was the reason Antietam was one of the HC’s 10 days. He reserved most of his time budget for the action at Antietam and the EP.
This is not deep, sophisticated history, this is television. I am not criticizing. TV does things no other media can. At a brief reception after the film, I heard conversation suggesting that public interest in the battle is rising generally, and that this film may have large impact. I hope that’s true.
After the screening, it was my pleasure to chat in person with internet-friends Tom Clemens and Stephen Recker. These guys are among those doing the very best work on the battle, largely unseen.